Mercer professor brings poetry to public spaces through Georgia Poetry in the Parks

The poem "Moonflowers" by Dr. James Davis May is featured on the Michelle Obama Trail. Photo by Joe Davich

Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn believes there’s a poem out there for you. And she wants to help you find it.

“I firmly believe that no one has to like every poem, but there is a poem out there for everyone,” said Rathburn, an assistant professor of English and creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Mercer University. “If we can get poetry just out and about in public spaces, then I think people have a greater chance of becoming more comfortable with it and coming across that one poem that really does speak to them.

“And if you find that one poem, that might lead you to seek out other ones.”

Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn stands next to a sign on the Georgia Poetry in the Parks trail at Glenlake Park. Photo courtesy Chelsea Rathburn

With that in mind, Rathburn, in collaboration with the Georgia Center for the Book and the DeKalb Library Foundation, created Georgia Poetry in the Parks. The program places signs featuring poems by Georgia writers along trails in four parks to encourage a moment of reflection. Some signs also include prompts to engage the reader.

The hope is that “ordinary Georgians out for a walk or taking a hike might stumble upon these poems and find something that speaks to them, find something of beauty,” Rathburn said.

The program, made possible by the Academy of American Poets with funds from the Mellon Foundation, launched in May at DeKalb County’s Michelle Obama Trail, Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area and Glenlake Park. A trail was later added at the Georgia Writers Museum in Eatonton.

Each trail features 14 poems, which are changed out each season. Rathburn curates the collection, which is the same for each trail, selecting contemporary poets who are diverse in gender, race, geography, age and experience and whose poems create a moment of reflection or a sense of wonder.

In its first two seasons, the program has included two Pulitzer Prize winners alongside a high school student and a recent college graduate. The spring trail featured former Georgia Poet Laureate David Bottoms, a Mercer alumnus. Dr. James Davis May, assistant professor and director of creative writing at Mercer and Rathburn’s husband, is included in the summer collection of poets.

The fall trail will include Dr. Gordon Johnston, professor of creative writing at Mercer, and Mercer alumnus Ryan Jones, who co-founded the University’s spoken word club. Rathburn expects the poems for the fall to go up sometime in mid-October.

If you want to read the poems on the trail, the path at Glenlake Park is the most accessible with the poems grouped together in a relatively small area. For a more strenuous hike, the poems at the Michelle Obama Trail and Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area cover a few miles.

The hope is the trail will expand throughout the state through the program’s connection to the library system, Rathburn said, bringing poetry to more people who may not seek it out in their daily lives.

The Georgia Poetry in the Parks trail at Glenlake Park. Photo by Joe Davich


Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing or submitting this online form.